Ireland’s first offshore wind renewable electricity auction (ORESS 1) launched this year, with the qualification process opening to applications in January 2023, and the auction bidding window open between 27 April and 3 May. Provisional results of the auction have now been released.
The ORESS 1 auction results have been hotly awaited and, for the Phase 1 offshore wind farm projects, represent their most significant milestone to date in what has been, for most of them, an extremely long development process.
Advance media reports have speculated that the price tag for electricity procured through ORESS 1 would be close to €150 per megawatt hour, however, the result of the auction is an average price of €86.05 per megawatt hour. This is much lower than expected, however, it remains higher than other European offshore wind auction processes. These comparisons come with a caveat that the auctions, and the prices procured by developers, are not always suitable for direct comparison. The terms and conditions of the Irish ORESS, and the investment uncertainty created by the timing of the auction, mean that developers have had to factor in a significant amount of risk into their pricing.
The successful projects will continue to progress the development of their projects, with a number of them having already submitted planning applications to An Bord Pleanála. Following receipt of planning consents, they will then move to securing contracts with their supply chain and advance to financing the projects.
The financing process for these projects will be a material undertaking. The international financing market’s view of the risk profile of the Maritime Area Consents (the MACs) – the preliminary planning instrument held by each of the projects – and the ORESS 1 terms and conditions (both of which are unique to Ireland), will determine how “bankable” Ireland’s offshore wind regime is. Accordingly, this will have an impact on the economics of these projects going forward as well as Ireland’s ability to effectively transition and decarbonise our economy. The investment required for the construction of these projects is significant and there will be competition for this capital from other jurisdictions. It is therefore important that the regulatory and policy framework does not result in uncompetitive structures which inhibit investment, or which result in a higher price of electricity for consumers.
A higher than expected competition ratio of 1.45 was set by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) and it has resulted in 2 of the bidders being unsuccessful in the ORESS 1 auction. As these results are provisional, unsuccessful applicants have two working days from receipt of the outcome to submit a notice of dissatisfaction to the Minister where they consider the TSO has not applied the terms and conditions correctly. The Minister will consider any notice of dissatisfaction prior to the issue of the Final Auction Results.
In order to achieve a fixed price route to market, the unsuccessful project(s) will need to secure either a corporate power purchase agreement (CPPA) or wait to participate in the next ORESS auction process. Unsuccessful ORESS 1 participants have been afforded a strictly limited period by the CRU within which to secure a CPPA, and beyond which projects will be required to relinquish their Grid Connection Assessments.
The window of opportunity for projects to agree an alternative route to market currently stands at three months, following which any Phase One project without a route to market will be required to surrender their Grid Connection Assessment. However, the duration of this window will be reviewed by the CRU following publication of the Phase Two policy statement, see below.
Due to just over 3GW being successful, in the auction it is expected that there will need to be increased capacity and frequency of ORESS auctions in order to meet the Government’s targets of at least 5GW of grid connected offshore wind to be delivered by 2030. It is likely that the first of these subsequent auctions will need to be run prior to material market feedback being available in relation to the “bankability”, or otherwise, of the ORESS 1 Terms and Conditions and the MACs.
Unsuccessful projects from ORESS 1 will not have to wait long for the next auction. The Policy Statement on the Framework for Phase Two Offshore Wind, published in March 2023, noted that:
“A first Phase Two auction – ORESS 2 – will launch by the end of 2023, following a public consultation on draft auction terms and conditions in mid-2023. Subsequent Phase Two auctions will only take place following identification of additional available grid connection capacity for offshore projects by EirGrid. Participation in Phase Two auctions will exclusively relate to offshore wind projects for delivery by 2030 to meet the 5 GW target.”
The approach for ORESS 2 is effectively a grid-led approach. Unlike ORESS 1 – where responsibility rests with developers – it will be EirGrid who will be responsible for developing the offshore grid transmission infrastructure for ORESS 2. Participants will compete for supports to develop offshore arrays that connect to offshore substations developed by EirGrid. However, successful participants in any subsequent ORESS auctions, beyond ORESS 2, may be required to develop all offshore transmission assets, including offshore substations, which will be subsequently transferred to EirGrid.
Participation in the ORESS 2 auction will, again, not require planning permission to be held prior to bidding. However, in a change in policy, it will also not require a MAC from the Maritime Area Planning Authority (MARA) as a pre-condition to participation. However, the same financial and technical competency requirements will apply.
This implies that the successful ORESS 2 participants will need to receive a MAC in a short period after the auction results are published. This approach is likely to favour certain developers over others, but it may also cause material attrition whereby successful participants in the auction are subsequently unable to build out their projects. This may prove to be the case due to planning risks manifesting, subsequent supply chain cost increases and / or programme delays as well as potential macro economic conditions.
To support Ireland’s ambitions the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD, announced plans to develop a National Industrial Strategy for Offshore Wind which will set out how Ireland can maximise the economic opportunity arising from the production of Offshore Wind Energy. We understand that the strategy, which is expected in Q1 2024, will focus on supply chain issues and develop measures to promote deman, such as through green hydrogen initiatives, while maximising the economic benefit for Ireland. This cross departmental support from the Irish State should provide some comfort to international investors interested in the Irish offshore wind sector.
For a variety of reasons, the level of project financing for the projects successful in Ireland’s onshore RESS 1 support scheme, was low. Similarly, it remains to be seen whether the outcome of the ORESS 1 auction process will result in 100% of these projects being financed and proceeding to construction and, if not, what the level of attrition will be.
It is likely that, having regard to the period of time for which they have been in development, and the commitments made by each of the developers of those projects to date, all of the successful ORESS 1 projects will proceed to construction if planning permission is granted. However, it is likely that for subsequent ORESS auctions we will see higher levels of attrition for the reasons outlined. A number of these influencing factors are macro in effect and the Government has little or no control or influence on them but is important that the unique features of the Irish market that the Government does control are structured in a way that limits speculative bidding and reduces attrition. These include the ORESS auction terms and conditions, the MAC process, and the timing and pre-condition to participation in the ORESS auctions.
For more information on the ORESS 1 results and expert advice on participation in subsequent Phase 2 auctions, contact a member of our Energy team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.